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March 13, 2014

Review: Believe (NBC/Watch) 1x1

Posted on March 13, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

NBC's Believe

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Watch. Starts March 27th

There used to be a time when I'd look forward to a show that had the name JJ Abrams attached. Even to this day, Felicity has its fans and although Alias went to seed in the second season, it was a real gamechanger and made Jennifer Garner’s career. Lost cemented Abrams' reputation, even if he had minimum involvement with it, as did Fringe - at least in some quarters.

But largely, Abrams’ reputation rests on those shows - and it’s a foundation of sand. Look over his CV, and even if you discard the pilots he made that never saw the light of day, such as The Catch, Anatomy of Hope and Shelter, you’ll see he’s mainly produced turkey after turkey. Remember Six Degrees, Undercovers, and Alcatraz? Almost Human wasn’t exactly a tour de force, and if you’re still watching either Revolution or Person of Interest, you have my sympathies.

So now I approach any TV show with Abrams’ name attached with a fair degree of caution. To a certain extent, that’s because Abrams’ playbook has become quite clear. He stocks up the pilot with a sci-fi or fantasy scenario, fills it full of random mysteries and questions that must be answered, adds a secret organisation with answers to these mysteries of the in-world universe that have no implications at all in the real world, adds in a few ‘wow’ moments, a few martial arts fights and then, over the course of the series, slowly ekes them out, adds more mysteries, before finally revealing the largely unsatisfying answers. Not always, but that’s usually how it goes, assuming they don’t get cancelled before they’ve had a chance to reveal all.

So behold Believe, Abrams’ latest show in which a mysterious organisation led by Agent Dale Cooper (sorry, Kyle MacLachlan) is hunting down a young girl with secret powers over pigeons. Yes, pigeons. Oh, she can do other things, too, like predict the future and read minds. How? Good question. She just can and she might change the world as a result, so the baddies want to control her.

However, there’s another secret organisation led by Delroy Lindo that wants to protect her. So they bust a wrongly convicted death row prisoner (Jake McLaughlin from the TV version of Crash) out of jail and put him in charge of protecting her… for the rest of his life. Not the best idea in the world, you might think, so why have they done that? Well, that’s a mystery. Kind of. But it all revolves faith and belief.

It sounds a bit rubbish, it is a bit rubbish, and with yet another central mystery of no real-world import, a secret organisation, etc, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was Abrams working by numbers. But, actually, it’s Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Gravity) and Mark Friedman (The Forgotten) who are the creative forces behind it, so despite its Abrams-ness, there are a few quirks to it you might not have been expecting.

Like that it’s deliberately silly to the extent that the main baddie is worried she won’t be home in time for her mum’s birthday with all the child-hunting she’s got to do.

Here’s a trailer. It'll tell you the answer to at least one of the mysteries mentioned above.

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March 12, 2014

Mini-review: Sirens 1x1-1x2 (USA)

Posted on March 12, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Sirens (USA)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA

2011’s Sirens was a rare comedy for Channel 4. Based on real-life accounts of life in the London ambulance service, the show was edgy and funny as well as dramatic.

As is the way of things, it was cancelled at the end of the first season, but even before then, Dennis Leary was looking to adapt it for the US. Three years in the making, here it comes, and despite Leary’s own edginess and experience on Rescue Me, this is largely an insipid piece, taking all the sharp edges and character from the original and replacing it with blokes winding each other up and swearing.

Rather than a nihilistic paramedic, his possible romantic interest female cop and best friend, his gay best friend, a Muslim newbie and the hospital counsellor who has to deal with them, we now have a slightly blokey but neurotic paramedic (Michael Mosley from Scrubs), his ex-girlfriend cop (Jessica McNamee from Home and Away), his black gay best friend (Kevin Daniels) and a newbie paramedic who lives at home with his parents (Kevin Bigley). Also along for the ride is the Old Spice Guy (Isaiah Mustafa) as McNamee’s new boyfriend, as well as a couple of female paramedics who hang around in scenes and laugh a bit, and an old black guy who talks to them like a counsellor but isn't.

And then we just watch them drive around from accident to accident, winding each other up. But there are no Muslims or issues of faith, no gay hook-ups, no booty calls from more powerful women, no real characterisation beyond the surface level, no insight into life as a paramedic. It’s just blokes making bloke jokes and silly people with soda bottles up their bottoms, or people struck by lightning and who act strangely afterwards. Let’s laugh at the silly people.

If I had to pick anything of interest other than the always awesome Mustafa, it’s that there’s an openly black gay character not being camp and yet still talking about being gay in a US TV series, which is novel. Also, the swearing, when allowed free flow in the second episode, almost verges on The Thick Of It for imagination.

But largely, it’s a pretty bog standard comedy that’s short on laughs, the big appeal of which is blokes winding each other up. Watch it if that’s your thing, otherwise try to watch the original instead.

Here’s a trailer. It makes it look better than it is, largely by taking moments from the entire first season, rather than just the first two episodes.

March 5, 2014

Review: Janet King 1x1 (ABC1)

Posted on March 5, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Janet King

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC1

Australia’s ABC1 has been undergoing something of a drama renaissance over the past few years. In between 2005 and 2011, the channel produced absolutely no long form drama at all. Then along came Crownies - essentially an Australian This Life about a group of novice solicitors - and the channel hasn’t looked back, giving us the likes of Serangoon Road, Rake, Redfern Now, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries, to name but a few (or maybe all).

Crownies only lasted for one series though, but even as it aired, the possibility of a spin-off series involving some of the characters was being worked on. Lo-and-behold, we now have Janet King, featuring guess which stand-out Crownies character?

It doesn’t take long for anyone who hasn’t seen Crownies to realise this is a spin-off, since the show delivers on a plate a big set of characters with pre-existing relationships and acts like we’re supposed to understand what’s going on. It does make a few concessions, not least to the question of what King’s been up to since Crownies - she’s been having a baby with her lesbian life-partner - and for a perilously long time, it looks like Janet King is going to be an innovative new format of TV programme, the legal/childcare advice show, telling us how to prosecute paedophiles while trying not to accidentally express breast milk.

However, initial introductions out the way, it does settle down and start to give us some story that doesn’t entirely rely on either other lawyers being miffed that King is back to work and apparently being prioritised over them - the show does do a good job at hinting at less overt forms of sexism, as well as overt - or babies needing looking after. It’s a two-strand piece, with an artist being accused of paedophilia and a top cop accused of murdering rather than euthanising his sick wife. The former has a decent visual payoff that requires the viewer to have paid attention, while the latter is a story set to continue in subsequent episodes.

As with a lot of legal shows, Janet King seems to rely on the police not having done much investigating, leaving it up to the lawyers to do it instead. In Janet King’s case, that’s the same lawyers who didn’t have time to prepare for their trials and missed important legislative changes that would have enabled them to send the accused down, so isn’t a great plan. Indeed, much of the first episode sees King mucking up almost constantly, getting things wrong, over-compensating, and more, making it hard to see why she’s so well regarded.

The show’s much better when it’s in the court room than out, and with the Australian legal system so similar to the UK’s, it’s easier to understand for UK viewers, too. Although the show sometimes feels like someone wanted to make “Julia Gillard: Crown Prosecutor”*, King’s Crownies wow factor isn’t much on display and unless you’re a Crownies fan, you’d be hard pushed to come up with a reason to watch what is a relatively ordinary lawyer show.

Worth a try if you want to see a good collection of female professional characters or you’re a Crownies lover; otherwise, I’d say give this one a miss.

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